Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fight for Women's Suffrage

I wrote a blog in June on the early women's rights movement in the US and the famous Seneca Falls Convention.  As with the civil rights movement, Quakers played a key role in the push toward equality.  Today I am writing about the fascinating story of the suffrage movement in the late 1800's and early 1900's that gave women the right to vote, and the leadership that Susan B. Anthony provided.

Susan B. Anthony coin first minted in 1979

A resolution was passed at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in favor of women voting, but was one of many.  Toward the end of the 19th century, particularly after the civil war (1861 - 1865), suffrage became a focus of the women's movement.  The goal was first to have the Supreme Court rule that women had a constitutional right to vote under the existing US constitution.  When that failed in 1875, the more difficult effort began to amend the constitution.

Abraham Lincoln is not mentioned in most histories of the suffrage movement.  I did some research and found that he was supportive, but primarily in private letters.  For example, in an early 1836 letter he wrote about the privileges of voting "by no means excluding women".  He devoted his efforts to other battles and was not a key player in the suffrage effort.

Susan B. Anthony led the Women's Loyal National League, with Elizabeth Stanton, and became the recognized face of the suffrage movement.  She was born in 1820 to a Quaker family that was strongly committed to social equality.  The act that brought her to fame was to illegally vote in an election in 1872.  She was arrested after the vote and was convicted in a widely publicized non-jury trial.  She continued to lead the national movement until her passing in 1906.

The next big event after Anthony's imprisonment was the Supreme Court case in 1875, Minor vs Happersett.  The Missouri Supreme Court ruled against Virginia Minor who brought the case when she was prevented from voting.  Her team argued that the 14th amendment described penalties to states that denied "the right to vote to any of its citizens".  Both the Missouri court and the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the amendment was assuming male voting throughout.

With the court ruling, the suffrage movement began the long and difficult process of amending the US constitution specifically for women's suffrage.  This required a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress followed by 3/4 of the states ratifying.  Those of us who lived through the ERA battles of the 1960's and 1970's know how hard it is to accomplish this.  It took marches, protests and large political campaigns leading up the 1920 presidential election to pass the amendment.  World War II played a role in the campaign as women were recognized to have played a large supporting role for the troops.  The 19th amendment was passed by the final state vote (Tennessee) in 1920.  Also known as the Anthony amendment, it is identical to the 15th amendment, but for gender instead of race.  It states that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex".


neroden@gmail said...

Carrie Chapman Catt led the final successful push -- she was an amazing strategist and tactician as well as an amazing coordinator and leader. Most people don't know enough about her.

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